Duke Neurobiologist Named CEO and Director of Max Planck Florida Institute’s Department of Cortical Circuit Function

December 1, 2010



The Max Planck Florida Institute today announced the appointment of David Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., as Chief Executive Officer and Director of its Department of Cortical Circuit Function, effective Jan. 3, 2011. Dr. Fitzpatrick is currently James B. Duke Professor of Neurobiology at the Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, and Director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.  His scientific contributions have earned him international recognition as a leader in systems neuroscience, with a focus on the functional organization and development of neural circuits in the cerebral cortex—the largest and most complex area of the brain, whose functions include sensory perception, motor control, and cognition.

“This is one of the most exciting steps in my career as a scientist,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. “To work with a research organization of the reputation of the Max Planck Society is an opportunity of a lifetime, and this opportunity comes as a host of new techniques for revealing the structure and function of neural circuits are on the horizon.  It is no exaggeration to say that we are at the dawn of a new era in our understanding of brain function and it disorders.  I am delighted to join the outstanding neuroscientists already on the ground at the Max Planck Florida Institute and look forward to working with them to build an exceptional environment for the development and application of new approaches to neural circuit function.”

The move has even more appeal for both the Institute and Dr. Fitzpatrick, as his wife, Dr. McLean Bolton, Research Assistant Professor in the Neurology Division of Duke’s Department of Pediatrics, will also join the Max Planck Florida Institute. She will become a research group leader focusing on disorders of neural circuit function.

Dr. Fitzpatrick earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Pennsylvania State University, and his doctorate in psychology from Duke University. Following postdoctoral training at the Medical University of South Carolina, he returned to Duke as an Assistant Professor of Anatomy and joined the Department of Neurobiology at its inception in 1990. He has received a number of awards for his research accomplishments, including an Alfred P. Sloan Research Award, The Cajal Club Cortical Discoverer Award and The McKnight Neuroscience Investigator Award. He has served on numerous scientific advisory boards including those for the Searle Scholars Program, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), the Riken Brain Science Institute, the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology, the Society for Neuroscience and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Fitzpatrick has also been recognized as an outstanding teacher, recipient of an Excellence in Basic Science Teaching Award from Duke University School of Medicine. He has served in an editorial capacity for a number of scientific journals, most recently as a Senior Editor for the Journal of Neuroscience.

In addition to his scientific achievements, Dr. Fitzpatrick has been recognized for his administrative leadership as the founding director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.  In this capacity, he has led the development of numerous cross-school, interdisciplinary initiatives that have spawned new areas of collaborative research, recruited new faculty and supported the development of new educational programs in the neurosciences.

Dr. Fitzpatrick’s research explores the organization and development of the cortical circuits that mediate visual perception. “Through mechanisms that remain poorly understood, our brains establish a remarkably rich neural representation of the environment, such that a quick glance provides a detailed account of the color and shapes of objects, their location in space, and the speed and direction of their movement. My goal in exploring the cortical circuits that mediate visual perception, and the experience-dependent mechanisms that shape them, is to elucidate fundamental mechanisms of cortical processing that underlie normal brain function.  This knowledge is critical for understanding how cortical circuits are altered in neurological and psychiatric disorders.”

“Recruiting such a keen scientific mind with the credentials and the caliber of Dr. Fitzpatrick’s greatly advances the research mission of the Max Planck Florida Institute,” said Dr. Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society.

The addition of Dr. Fitzpatrick and Dr. Bolton to the growing Institute brings the number of scientists in Jupiter to nine and the total staff number to 45. The Institute’s Digital Neuroanatomy Group, under the direction of 1991 Nobel Laureate in Medicine Bert Sakmann, Ph.D. is conducting a program dedicated to creating a three-dimensional map of neural circuits in the mouse brain. The Molecular Neurobiology Group, under the direction of Samuel M. Young, Jr., Ph.D., is combining advanced optical, electrophysiological and molecular techniques to uncover the molecular basis for the function of synapses, the sites of communication between neurons. Jason Christie, Ph.D., leads the Synapse Physiology Group which is using advanced optical and electrophysiological approaches to probe fundamental aspects of neurotransmission at synapses. The Cortical Circuits Group, with James Schummers, Ph.D., as its group leader, is also focused on the functional organization of circuits in the cerebral cortex. Collectively, this research can lead to the development and application of new technologies that resolve the inner workings of the brain to facilitate medical diagnostics and treatment for diseases such as Autism, ADHD, Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, mental retardation and others.

The Max Planck Florida Institute is currently operating in a temporary facility on Florida Atlantic University’s MacArthur Campus in Jupiter. The permanent 100,000-square-foot biomedical research center and laboratories is expected to be completed by early 2012. For more information, visit www.maxplanckflorida.org.
About the Max Planck Society:

Germany’s Max Planck Society has led the world in advancing the frontiers of scientific research for more than 60 years. The independent, nonprofit organization, with its international staff of around 20,400, including research fellows and visiting scientists, has an annual operating budget of $1.8 billion. Named for the 1918 Nobel Prize-winning physicist and founder of the quantum theory, Max Planck, the scientific institution maintains 80 institutes and research facilities located mainly in Germany, but also in Italy, Netherlands, and now in the United States. All are focused on exceptional, results-oriented basic research in the life sciences, social sciences and the humanities.